Miller-Meeks, Delgado, Mann, Sherrill Introduce Bipartisan and Bicameral Legislation to Improve Veterans Crisis Line
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, August 26th, 2021, Reps. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (IA-02), Antonio Delgado (NY-19), Tracey Mann (KS-01), and Mikie Sherrill (NJ-11) announced bipartisan legislation to improve the Veterans Crisis Line (VCL). The Revising and Expediting Actions for the Crisis Hotline (REACH) for Veterans Act would implement key improvements in staff training and management. The bill also facilitates the VCL’s transition to 9-8-8 as part of the national suicide prevention hotline.
This legislation is the House companion to legislation introduced by Senators Jon Tester (D-MT) and Jerry Moran (R-KS), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.
“Our veterans deserve the highest quality care at all times. The Veterans Crisis Line is a critical tool to helping our veterans in their time of need,” said Miller-Meeks. “Being able to work with the amazing Veterans Service Organizations and other stakeholders around the country to develop updated training guidelines will better serve all of our veterans. I am proud to partner with Representatives Delgado, Mann, and Sherrill to revamp this important resource for our veterans.”
“Congress has made meaningful improvements to the Veterans Crisis Line in recent years, but more can be done. Our brave veterans deserve the highest level of support,” said Delgado. “This bipartisan and bicameral legislation would implement critical recommendations made by the Office of Inspector General to better serve veterans, servicemembers, National Guard and Reserve, and their families. I am proud to lead this effort alongside Senators Tester and Moran and my colleagues in the House. Let's get this done.”
“Our military veterans dedicated their lives to protecting our country, and they deserve first-rate resources,” said Mann. “The REACH for Veterans Act would improve the Veterans Crisis Line – enhancing staff training, establishing new response programs, and evaluating process management. I’m pleased to join Representative Delgado, my Kansas colleague Senator Moran, and many other colleagues on this bipartisan, bicameral effort. As a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, I will continue to advocate for the highest quality of care for our nation’s heroes.”
“Never has veteran mental health support been more critical than today,” said Sherrill. “In addition to the ongoing challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, our withdrawal from Afghanistan and the subsequent struggle to safely evacuate our fellow citizens and Afghan allies has been a real challenge to process for many of our veterans. It’s exacerbated a struggle that is very real for too many of them every, single day. The Veterans Crisis Line acts as both the first and last line of defense to save veterans in crisis, and the improvements included in the REACH for Veterans Act ensures they get the highest quality of service possible.”
To read the full text of the legislation, click HERE.
The REACH for Veterans Act would:
- Require an outside evaluation of VCL’s current training curriculum
- Direct the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to issue re-training guidance for call responders
- Increase the quality review and management over VCL calls and processes
- Improve responder guidance for high-risk callers
- Establish pilot programs to improve VCL services.
The bill would also facilitate the transition to 9-8-8 as the national suicide prevention hotline, with more guidance from Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) and other stakeholders. These changes are based on recommendations made by the VA’s Inspector General in a series of reports published over the previous 12 months.
The REACH for Veterans Act is endorsed by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, National Board for Certified Counselors, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and Wounded Warrior Project.
“Veteran suicide prevention must be a national priority,” said Laurel Stine, J.D., Senior Vice President for Public Policy of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). “AFSP applauds Representatives Delgado, Mann, Sherrill, and Miller-Meeks for ensuring the Veterans Crisis Line has the capacity to respond to callers as effectively as possible. When Veterans call 9-8-8, they should receive quick, appropriate crisis care, and we urge Congress to pass the Revising and Expediting Actions for the Crisis Hotline (REACH) for Veterans Act.”
“Addressing veteran mental health through preventative action is vital to decreasing the veteran suicide rate,” said Chanin Nuntavong, Executive Director of The American Legion. “The Veteran Crisis Line serves as a tool for suicidal veterans to get the mental health assistance they need. Unfortunately, bureaucratic inadequacies have made the VCL ineffective at times. This is why The American Legion supports the REACH for Veterans Act. This legislation strengthens the transition to 9-8-8 as the national suicide prevention hotline by requiring VA to issue re-training guidance for VCL responders and mandating VA get feedback from VSOs on VA outreach during the move to 9-8-8.”
“The Veterans Crisis Line has helped hundreds of thousands of veterans access mental health services and mitigate suicide risk and is an incredibly important tool for veterans who are struggling,” said Andrew Marshall, National Commander of Disabled American Veterans (DAV). “DAV is proud to support the REACH for Veterans Act, which aims to further improve the effectiveness of the VCL through systematic review, training, and ongoing monitoring. Veterans need and deserve a safe, accessible means of seeking immediate help in times of crisis, and we thank Representatives Delgado, Mann, Sherrill, and Miller-Meeks for sponsoring this legislation and making a steadfast commitment in the fight against veteran suicide.”
“In 2007, VA established the Veterans Crisis Line,” said Tammy Barlet, the National Legislative Service Associate Director for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). “This hotline provides 24/7 confidential call, text, or chat crisis intervention and suicide prevention for veterans, service members, National Guard and Reserve, and their families. Eliminating suicide among our nation’s veterans is a priority of the VFW, which is why we support H.R. 5073, REACH for Veterans Act of 2021. This bill would provide oversight of VCL staffing, training, and processes, an extended safety planning pilot program, and research funding for improvements. In addition, the VFW looks forward to working with Congress and VA in the rollout of the upcoming national 3-digit suicide and mental health crisis hotline––9-8-8.”
“Wounded Warrior Project was pleased to work with Congress last year on passage of legislation that makes 9-8-8 the universal telephone number for national suicide prevention,” said Jose Ramos, Vice President of Government and Community Relations for the Wounded Warrior Project. “As 9-8-8 will make lifesaving resources more accessible for veterans in crisis, it is vital the Veterans Crisis Line is prepared to meet the transition. That’s why the Wounded Warrior Project supports the REACH for Veterans Act, which would make improvements to staff training, quality review and management, and guidance for high-risk calls. We applaud Reps. Antonio Delgado (D-NY-19), Tracey Mann (R-KS-01), Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ-11), and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA-02) for their leadership and look forward to working with the Committee to see it passed.”